Winter Hill fire could last for 'another week', police say


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Media captionThe Winter Hill blaze has spread over Lancashire moorland

A large wildfire on Lancashire moorland may burn for another week, police fear.

Up to 100 firefighters from across England are tackling the blaze on Winter Hill near Bolton in "testing conditions".

A major incident was declared when winds caused two fires to merge near communication masts on Saturday.

The flames have spread close to Grade II-listed Rivington Terraced Gardens, which had received £3.4m of lottery funding two years ago for improvements.

The Winter Hill blaze, near a major TV transmitter, is smouldering in pockets across a 3 sq miles (8 sq km) area.

A 22-year-old man, from Bolton, was arrested on Friday on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Firefighters have been drafter from across England

Crews from across the country have also joined firefighters and the Army combat a blaze 30 miles away at Saddleworth Moor in Greater Manchester, which started a week ago.

Along with the Winter Hill fire, it has covered the region in smoke and ash. People in nearby areas have been asked to keep doors and windows closed.

On Facebook, the organisation criticised some members of the public who were reportedly seen taking selfies near the fire.

Police have also repeated their advice that people stay away after a man collapsed from smoke inhalation when he ignored a police tape.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service appealed for people not to fly drones over the scene.

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Rivington Terraced Gardens, set up by one of the founders of the Lever Brothers multinational firm, will remain shut on Monday because of the fire.

Andrew Suter, from Rivington Heritage Trust, said: "While there are bigger concerns with life and other loss elsewhere, we are desperately trying to make sure the fire doesn't reach the garden."

How common are moorland fires in the UK?

Image copyright Reuters

The current moorland fires are relatively unusual, says Alastair Lewis, professor at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, but they could become more frequent because of climate change.

Guillermo Rein, professor of fire science at Imperial College London, said a population increase and the growth of development on the fringe of urban areas has also contributed.

He says the link between fires and climate change is even stronger in northern Europe. While small fires can be beneficial to moorlands, large and intense fires damage ecosystems, he added.

The Met Office says nearly all moorland fires in the UK are started by people - such as from campfires or discarded cigarettes and glass - whereas lightning strikes are frequently the cause in other parts of the world.

The UK's peaty moorlands are massive carbon reservoirs, which become tinder-boxes during prolonged dry spells, says Nick Ostle from Lancaster Environment Centre.

Source: Science Media Centre

Lancashire assistant chief fire officer Dave Russell said: "Moorland firefighting is very demanding - the firefighters are dealing with undulating terrain, different types of vegetation but also the logistics of deploying resources onto the moorland present us with a number of challenges.

"My concern primarily yesterday was that, on the top of Winter Hill, there are a number of radio telecommunication systems, which are essentially part of critical national infrastructure."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Winter Hill blaze started on Thursday

Trenches have been dug to prevent the fire spreading, including one around a house that was evacuated, while a helicopter has been dropping water to help douse the flames.


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Media captionA family had to leave their home after a major moorland blaze

Met Office forecaster Helen Roberts said there was no significant rain forecast in the area this week.

She added that "winds are likely to pick up overnight", which could worsen the fire.

At the scene

Dave Guest, BBC News

Image copyright PA
Image caption Residents have been told to keep windows shut

The terrain is difficult, the ground is tinder-dry and fire crews are being hampered by strong winds, which have continually whipped up the flames.

The problem with peat fires, as we discovered on Saddleworth Moor last week, is they can often burn underground for quite some time and then pop up in different areas.

The firefighters say a number of sightseers have been coming up here - ignoring road closures to try to get a closer look - and are being warned it was very dangerous.

There are about 200 firefighters on the moors, split over seven areas of wildfire at Saddleworth and Winter Hill.

About 100 soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Scotland were sent from their Yorkshire barracks on Thursday to aid firefighters in Saddleworth for an initial 48-hour deployment.

Their presence has been extended until Monday afternoon following a request by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Soldiers have been drafted in to tackle the Saddleworth fire

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